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Wildlife Tourism Is Big Bucks for Gulf Coast

By Evelina Burnett | Published 16 Jul 2013 12:26pm | comments
Photo courtesy of Evelina Burnett/ MPB News

A new study says wildlife tourism in the Gulf region is a $19 billion business. With many billions still heading to the region from BP oil spill penalties, local groups want environmental restoration to be a top priority.

 Birds come out after an afternoon thunderstorm rolls through Moss Point, home to the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. Director Mark LaSalle says the center, which opened just seven years ago, welcomes 10,000 visitors every year. A new study sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund says that tourists like these –,wildlife tourists spend almost $2 billion in Mississippi annually. These may be wildlife or nature tourists, LaSalle says they’re like tourists everywhere.

"So a tourist in general will spend money, they have to spend money on lodging, food and fuel and they buy retail," says LaSalle.   

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center is getting ready to break ground on a new $2 million, 5,000-square-foot facility. LaSalle says their growth is tied to the center’s success in drawing visitors to the area.

"The success of our project here over the past almost 10 years now that I've been working on this has been around the support we get from the local community because it's an economic development project really, it's a nature-based economic development project.  We're using nature to draw people in," continues LaSalle. 

Jim Wyermanof Environmental Defense Fund says the report shows the direct connection between wildlife tourism and the health of the coastal economy and shows the urgency of coastal restoration.

"It comes at a very important time because we have a unique opportunity from the various funds that are coming in from the Restore Act and from the Deepwater Horizon spill to actually have a significant amount of resources to contribute to coastal restoration," says Wyerman.  

The study says wildlife tourists are the visitors who come to the coast to look for birds, dolphins, and other animals; as well as to fish and hunt.   It found that these wildlife activities contributed about $209 million in state and local tax revenues in Mississippi in 2011. 



Photo courtesy of Evelina Burnett/ MPB News



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